It’s time for Ishmael’s last two years of school. He has actually survived years of bullying and teasing, due to the ‘loser’ tag his surname Leseur has blessed him with, and now, even has a small band of buddies to see him through the tough times.
‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ is the final of the Ishmael books written by Michael Gerard Bauer. And it’s probably one of the funniest. It is easy to empathise with Ishmael and his friends as they negotiate the problems faced in the final years of their schooling – the things they do and say are totally believeable and easily recognisable. Even if you haven’t read the earlier books, it’s a tale that’s easy for the reader to follow and to yearn to support Ishmael’s honest endeavours to survive.
The ups and downs of normal teenage life and strife are woven through Ishmael’s senior school story. His newfound love, extracted to New Zealand by her father’s work (just after their first kiss), troubles Ishmael. The loss of his dream girl haunts Ishmael for some time. But then there are other things he needs to worry about; as school demands, high teacher expectations and the needs of his friends claim his attention.
Through it all, Ishmael is lovable and laughable – so much, that my family wondered what I was chuckling about as I eagerly turned each page. Probably not a book to read on the train – perhaps I recognise too many students’ ways in these characters?
Gerard Bauer has captured much of the essence of the last years at school – trying to balance school, friendship and the ‘finessing’ of your own self esteem. Though Ishmael and his friends, (Razzman, Ignatius, Scobie and Bill) sometimes negotiate their final years with the skill of a sumo wrestler in a fine ballet performance, they triumph in so many other ways – just as many senior students surprise both themselves and their teachers in the final resolution of their school years. (Well, if the Razzman can get a handle on Hamlet, then there’s hope for everyone, right?)
Michael Gerard Bauer also has lots to share with his readers and those who aspire to write successfully, as he certainly models what he says:
‘Write for yourself first and foremost rather than an audience. Write the story you are passionate about – the one that makes you laugh, or cry or moves you in some way, not the one you think you should write just to get published…Your task is to make your reader feel that anytime they are reading your story, it is the only one that matters. ‘ (Part of an interview with Michael Gerard Bauer on We Love YA blog – read the whole interview here )
Much of Ishmael is a reflection either from his own personal experiences, or as a former teacher, those observed at school. Maybe that’s what makes it all so good? I suggest hooking up with ‘Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel’ soon to judge for yourself… (And if you haven’t read the previous books, try them out too!)
## Whether Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel takes out the CBCA Older Readers Category will be announced in the coming weeks. What do you think?
N.B. If you haven’t read the previous Ishmael books, check out this video where Michael Gerard Bauer explains how some of his characters come about, and ways the distinctive voices of his characters develop: